Gambling is an activity in which a person takes a risk for the chance to win money or prizes. This can be done through various games of chance, such as the lottery, raffles, and sports betting. In many countries, gambling is regulated and may be prohibited. Gambling has significant social and economic impacts, not only on the gambler but also on his or her family members and society as a whole. Impacts can be observed at the individual, interpersonal, and community/society levels (see Figure 1).
People who are predisposed to thrill-seeking behavior, impulsivity, and inability to control their emotions and make sound decisions may have a greater tendency to develop gambling problems. Studies show that genetics may play a role in this, as well as differences in brain structure and function.
Pathological gambling (PG) is a serious behavioral problem that results in severe distress, impairment, and disruption of everyday life. Symptoms include a strong urge to gamble and repeated unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop gambling. PG is a treatable disorder and can be diagnosed by a mental health professional using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association. PG typically starts in adolescence or early adulthood and may involve any type of gambling. PG affects men and women equally, though males begin gambling at a younger age and are more likely to engage in strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling, such as poker or blackjack.
Various factors can contribute to gambling problems, including poor financial management skills, family and peer pressures to gamble, and the perception that gambling is a source of entertainment. Moreover, the fact that gambling is often illegal or not well regulated means that gamblers do not have access to help services, and they may find it hard to admit to a problem. Cultural factors can also affect the perception of gambling problems, as some cultures consider gambling a legitimate form of recreation and may not view it as a cause for concern.
The most obvious negative impact of gambling is the loss of money and/or income, which can lead to debt and bankruptcy. This has a direct effect on the gambler’s quality of life, including relationships and health and wellbeing. Nevertheless, some positive aspects of gambling include the ability to learn new skills and increase self-esteem.
Most studies of gambling have focused on monetary costs and benefits, which are easy to quantify. However, there are other social costs that cannot be quantified, such as the emotional and relationship strain caused by gambling. In addition, gambling can have a long-term impact on a person’s life course and may even have intergenerational consequences. Therefore, longitudinal gambling research is critical to identify the full range of costs and benefits. However, longitudinal studies are difficult to mount, because of challenges such as funding, maintaining a research team over a long period of time, and sample attrition. Despite these challenges, longitudinal gambling research is becoming increasingly common and more sophisticated.